Aidan Gillen, Alfie Allen, Arya Stark, Bran Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Bronn, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Conleth Hill, Daenerys Targaryen, Davos, Diana Rigg, Dragons, Dragonstone, Drogon, Ellie Kendrick, Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones, Gemma Whelan, GoT, Gwendoline Christie, Highgarden, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Iwan Rheon, Jaime Lannister, Jerome Flynn, Jon Snow, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Liam Cunningham, Littlefinger, Maisie Williams, Meera Reed, Michelle Fairley, Missandei, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ned Stark, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Olenna Tyrell, Ramsay Bolton, Rory McCann, Sansa Stark, Sean Bean, Sophie Turner, Television, Television Review, The Hound, The Queen's Justice, The Spoils of War, Theon Greyjoy, TV, TV Review, Varys, White Walkers, Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy
“The Spoils of War” picked up where the previous episode left off; at Highgarden. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was packing gold into the back of a cart whilst contemplating what Olenna (Diana Rigg) told him at the end of “The Queen’s Justice”, and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) was trying to claim the vacated castle as his own. As mentioned in previous reviews, I like it when there’s continuity on television because it makes a series easier to binge-watch at a later date, so it’s hard for me to complain about this opening scene.
However, in a way starting this episode with Jaime continuing his duties as head of the Lannister army lessened the impact of last week’s conclusion. Neither the opening scene nor “The Spoils of War” as a whole answered the question that was on my mind after last week’s episode; how will Olenna’s reveal effect Jaime’s relationship with Cersei (Lena Headey)? Jaime’s geographical separation from Cersei means that any payoff on this front has to be limited, but the fact that Jaime continued to stand up for Cersei’s leadership disappointed me greatly. It’s not that I expected him to immediately hate her – that would be ridiculous – but portraying the character as though nothing substantial has changed is a mistake.
The episode then logically cut to King’s Landing where Cersei was discussing her victory with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss), the representative from the Iron Bank who also appeared in “The Queen’s Justice”. I’m not going to say too much about this scene because it felt like filler when I was watching it, but given the fact that Cersei’s conversation with Tycho last week proved to be very significant it may end up that this one was as well – for now we just don’t know. Still, I thought that the information that was conveyed to the audience in this scene could’ve been put across in a more natural way because it felt quite forced to me.
The next scene was much more interesting as we were treated to an interaction that I wasn’t expecting. Given Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) past discretions I expected him to stay as far away from Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) as possible, even though he’s sure to be dubious about Bran’s supposed powers, so to see the two have a face-to-face conversation was a welcome surprise. It’s well-established now that unfortunately I don’t like Hempstead-Wright’s acting on the show, but the scene itself was actually pretty good.
One of the best things about this season of “Thrones” so far is that characters that we never thought would come together are becoming connected through either circumstance or narrative necessity. I personally didn’t consider the possibility of these two characters ever having a conversation, so seeing it happen was genuinely exciting even if the scene itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Littlefinger tried to manipulate Bran into thinking that he was an ally by giving him the dagger that the assassin tried to kill him with in season one, before using the word ‘chaos’. This led to Bran repeating the phrase that Littlefinger once said when speaking to Varys (Conleth Hill) back in season three – ‘chaos is a ladder’.
The conversation that was being referenced is a little bit obscure given the time that has passed since it happened on the show, but personally it’s one of my favourite lines from a time when “Thrones” was offering up some of the best dialogue on television. There was a nice blend of tension and comedy in this scene because it was clear that neither person was genuinely concerned about the other, and Bran revealing that he knew what Littlefinger was up to in the way that he did was clever writing because it was simple yet impactful.
Still, I can’t stay positive for too long and I have to say that the next scene left a lot to be desired. Meera (Ellie Kendrick) isn’t a well-developed character on the show and in fact we don’t know a lot about her at all, but she was likeable and it was frustrating to see her treated poorly. It wasn’t exactly clear what she wanted from Bran after essentially dragging him to safety, and I suppose most people don’t care about her anyway, but personally I find it difficult to justify Bran treating people badly just because he’s omniscient.
This is a writing tool that you see a lot in comics, particularly within the superhero genre when characters like Brainiac and Doctor Manhattan treat emotion as secondary to logic and reason. It seems like there’s the same kind of implicit suggestion going on here which is that because Bran knows so much he deems it necessary to shut out all of his emotions and desires. This doesn’t really add up to me because although being omniscient might lead you to favour a more external perspective on your life and your future, it doesn’t logically follow that you should be numb to things which occur naturally and are caused by your physiology, unless you’re sociopathic.
Maybe Bran has come to the realisation that human emotion is meaningless and without useful application, but he’s still human and sometimes the chemicals in our body make us react to stimuli in surprising ways. Bran (as he’s written on the show) might think that emotions are destructive, corrosive, or perhaps just pointless, but I don’t see how this knowledge would stop him feeling or expressing said emotions at certain points. I’m probably thinking too deep into this because the real issue with the scene was that the writers didn’t respect their audiences’ intelligence, using Meera’s exit to force-feed us obvious information and to emphasise the fact that Bran isn’t the same as he was before, but I think it’s important to note that the characterisation of Bran is too simplistic and reductive.
The episode continued at Winterfell as Arya (Maisie Williams) made her long awaited return to her family’s ancestral home. Once again I was frustrated by the speed at which she managed to reach her destination, but at least this time the character was absent for an episode whilst presumably travelling. The notes I made on this moment will not translate well to this review because they are very aggressive, but to put it mildly I hated this scene.
I’m as pleased as anyone to see Arya return to Winterfell and it gets the narrative moving in the right direction, but the execution was idiotic, offensive, and devalued the moment completely. Arya’s presence at Winterfell should’ve been greeted with optimism and cheers from the audience, yet before we got to see her meet Sansa and Bran we had to endure an interaction between her and two condescending guards. We just didn’t need this! It didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know about the character and it wasn’t fun to watch; it was just pointless! It was by far the worst scene of the episode; it wasn’t poignant, wasn’t clever, and grossly mishandled a major moment in the narrative.
Nevertheless, when Arya did finally meet up with Sansa (Sophie Turner) it made for good television. Having the pair talk in front of a statue of Ned (Sean Bean) was a nice touch and both Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams did what they needed to do. I tried to enjoy watching the moment play out rather than overanalysing it which I think improved my perception of it, but it was a decent scene.
It’s a shame that Arya’s character arc has been botched ever since she left The Hound (Rory McCann) in season four because now it’s hard to know how to feel about her when she’s letting her guard down. The writing for the character hasn’t been strong enough to make it feel as though she’s fundamentally changed since the series began; she’s not the same as she was and she’s certainly more ruthless, but she’s wanted to be a warrior since the start of the show and all that’s changed is that now she is one. There was a time when she felt hardened and vicious, but since then the show hasn’t done enough to cement this; she basically does whatever the narrative demands and it’s very difficult to route for her as a result.
I’m conflicted about the next scene as well for the same reason because although it was fun to see Bran, Arya, and Sansa plotting together, the scene as a whole felt hollow. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Bran brought up Arya’s list, something which was brought up in the previous scene as well, because it felt as though the writers only chose this aspect of Arya’s story to reference because Sansa already knew about it. Bran could’ve talked about blindness, The Hound, or even something vague about the Faceless Men, and going with any one of these choices would’ve been more entertaining for the audience. It was intriguing that Bran gave Arya the Valyrian steel dagger because given what he knows this might be significant further down the line, but overall this was a safe, middle-of-the-road scene.
A moment I did enjoy in the North was when Arya and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) reunited, because although they’ve only been on screen together once there was a sense in which this marked the completion of Brienne’s story arc. Ever since Renly (Gethin Anthony) died it’s been Brienne’s mission to rescue the Stark girls for Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), so the fact that she’s now inadvertently achieved this could be of real consequence for her character. Whether or not this means that Brienne faces a heroic death later this season or in season eight is debateable – she could make it right to the end of the series – but just the fact that she’s done exactly what she set out to do is quite rewarding to watch on a show which oftentimes is devoid of happy endings.
The sparring between the pair was also entertaining as their styles collided, and although this scene was a bit over-the-top I liked how it was shot. It was simple but we could clearly see what was happening which is rare for fight scenes on television. Arya’s explanation that ‘no one’ taught her how to fight was also a fun nod to the last couple of seasons; it was a bit on the nose but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate it.
Elsewhere, Jon (Kit Harington) and Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) relationship seems to have become more positive as the pair are now speaking to one another with honesty and less hostility. Jon took Daenerys into the mines to see the dragonglass, with dramatic music played over the top of the scene just in case we didn’t realise that this substance was going to be significant in the future.
I liked this sequence but I don’t think it was executed brilliantly. Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke are likeable on screen together and they have chemistry, and as mentioned in my previous “Thrones” review their characters mesh well together because they’ve gone through similar experiences, but there was a glaring issue with what we were shown. The issue I’m referring to is that the cave drawings that Jon used to give weight to the existence of White Walkers were unbelievably convenient, to the point that it’s almost insulting to the audience to use this as a plot device.
It’s not just that they happen to be in the ideal location to keep the plot moving forward, it’s also the fact that Daenerys didn’t question them at all. Jon could be an expert stone carver for all she knows and he could’ve snuck into the cave overnight to etch the drawings himself; after all, the timeline has been completely abused so we have no idea how long Jon has been at Dragonstone at this point! I’m not going to drag this criticism out because it’s a problem which explains itself, but surely the showrunners need to take more care with how they present their narrative if they want the audience to take it seriously?
When the pair left the cave they were greeted by Tyrion and Varys who unfortunately brought some bad news about Highgarden. This scene was fine and I don’t have much to say about it in terms of positives or negatives; it was quick and it did what it needed to do in setting up the climax of the episode.
Later at Dragonstone Jon and Davos (Liam Cunningham) discussed the size of Daenerys’ heart… among other things. Again I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like the direction that this scene took because although having characters come together and build relationships can make for good television it doesn’t work when the motivation is so transparent. Jon and Davos bumped into Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) who was stood waiting for them; they talked about Missandei’s past and eventually came to the topic of Daenerys and her character, with Missandei giving her a glowing reference.
This scene was clearly designed to fast-track a stable relationship between Dany and Jon, which I understand, but I take issue with the fact that the writers pretended that the scene was about developing Missandei. I didn’t have a massive issue with it but it was cheap and didn’t actually achieve anything when it was over.
Following this scene we were treated to another interaction that I didn’t expect to see again on “Thrones”, as Theon (Alfie Allen) washed up on the shores of Dragonstone to be greeted by his former rival, Jon Snow. The pair stood quietly for a moment before Theon broke the silence with a simple greeting and began to walk towards Jon. Jon then grabbed Theon and threatened him, explaining that the only reason that he wasn’t dead already was because of what he did to Sansa.
This was an incredibly weird turn of phrase because Jon was referencing the fact that Theon saved Sansa from Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), an act which was noble enough for Jon to spare Theon’s life. This was something that Theon did for Sansa rather than to her. The implication of doing something to someone is usually that you’ve wronged them in one way or another, so using this phrase confused the scene quite noticeably. I don’t know whether or not this was a mistake by Kit Harington that the director chose to overlook or whether this phrasing was actually in the script, but either way it was wrong.
Much like in the previous episode this scene with Theon was used to transition into a more important one, as Theon explained that he needed Dany’s help to rescue Yara (Gemma Whelan) before being told; ‘the queen is gone’.
From here the episode sparked into life and skyrocketed in quality, culminating in a beautifully shot sequence in which Daenerys used the Dothraki and Drogon to decimate Jaime’s forces and destroy the supplies he’d taken from Highgarden. I loved this sequence from start to finish, with my only issue relating once again to the fact that travel on “Thrones” has become superfluous.
The scene started slowly before a rumbling in the background could be heard. The Lannister forces got in formation and awaited their enemy who then appeared on the horizon screaming and ready to kill. The Dothraki on their own are scary enough, but to top it off Jaime, Bronn, and the rest of the Lannister army saw a dragon flying straight for them. The score and the cinematography were sublime during this sequence and you really have to applaud “Thrones” for doing things on a scale that you normally don’t see on television.
It was another visceral battle sequence in the vein of the Battle of the Bastards and the Battle of Blackwater, although admittedly it didn’t have a whole episode dedicated to it like those battles did. The tracking shot of Bronn making his way to the ballista was awesome and the fact that he actually managed to hit Drogon with one of the arrows was a genuine shock.
Whether or not somebody significant like Bronn should’ve died during the battle is a point worthy of discussion, but personally I was glad that everyone important ended up surviving the sequence.
Overall, “The Spoils of War” was an episode of varying levels of quality, but the extended 10-15 minutes sequence at the end was spectacular and left me more than satisfied. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next week as Daenerys addresses the Lannister army, and with things getting a little too close for comfort for Littlefinger in Winterfell the season is wonderfully poised.